Lions take 'next-man-up mentality' over coaches and coronavirus

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News
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If one thing has been made abundantly clear during this pandemic, it's that the coronavirus is nondiscriminatory. While it certainly doesn't affect everyone the same way, places where mass testing is available shows anyone can get infected, even if they're ultimately asymptomatic.

So far, two NFL head coaches have had the virus. New Orleans coach Sean Payton contracted the virus in March, briefly experiencing flu-like symptoms, followed by several days of fatigue. More recently, as the league began its first week of in-person work this offseason, Philadelphia's Doug Pederson tested positive. Fortunately for him, he fell under the asymptomatic category. 

Matt Patricia

But Pederson's positive test is a quick reminder of how differently things could be if the NFL is able to keep its 2020 season on track during the pandemic. Even without symptoms, any player who tests positive must be quarantined a minimum of five days. And for those exhibiting symptoms, it's 10 days, and at least 72 hours after symptoms last appeared. 

With the violent nature of the game, NFL teams are used to having to replace a player on the fly, described by many around the league as "next man up." But what happens if Detroit Lions coach Matt Patricia were to test positive for the virus during the season, or offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell? It's become increasingly clear the team needs to have a plan. 

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"Back in the summer we talked about it, put a plan in place," Patricia said during a video conference with reporters on Friday. "Part of our philosophy is make sure the next man is ready to go. That's not only on the football field.  We have always had that with the coaching staff, kind of next-man-up mentality, so we'll probably put a little bit more emphasis on it during training camp. Maybe it's a period of practice where one of the other coaches calls the plays or something along those lines."

As for any specifics for how the team might shuffle the deck in an emergency situation, Patricia opted to keep those plans to himself. 

Still, even with proper preparation, a situation where a key coach would have to be quarantined could be problematic for the Lions, based on the staff's experience. Beyond Patricia, none of the team's assistants have head-coaching experience. And only wide receivers coach Robert Prince has play-calling experience beyond the coordinators, although Patricia could easily step in and handle calling the defense, if needed. 

From a individual standpoint, Patricia has been highly cautious with his personal and family's health the past several months. So at some level, you would imagine Pederson's positive test would raise additional concerns. But the Lions coach first thoughts were focused on the well-being of his colleagues more than himself. 

"My first reaction is I called Doug, just want to make sure he was OK," Patricia said. "You know I just checked in, 'Hey man, all right, what's going on? You know just sometimes it may be just a text message, just to get that assurance that that person's OK. That's really, that's probably my first reaction on all that stuff. Same thing with coach Payton when he got it in the spring.

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"These are colleagues, these are people you've known for a long time," Patricia continued. "You compete, extremely hard with during the fall, but you know this is a different sort of level of situation. Just trying to make sure he's OK. There's something you can do some way to help out, something like that."

Beyond football, Patricia was saddened to learn a member of the facility's custodial staff recently lost their spouse to the virus.

"A lot of times, those guys that come in at night, the cleaning crews, those are the ones I see the most during the course of the season and get caught up with, and I haven’t seen any of them in six months," Patricia said Friday. I saw one of the ladies and she told me a story about how she lost her husband to COVID. Quite frankly, that hit me really hard, to understand that this is about people. We have to listen to everybody’s unique situations to make sure that everybody is safe. It’s not just, ‘Hey, what makes it easy for us, or, how do we move as a football team?’ It’s, ‘How do we help people right now?’ That’s real."

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